Christmas Special: The Roast Beast at the Christmas Feast

I ended up spending the entire day in the kitchen. I did this quite happily, and entirely voluntarily. Since Christmas this year was unfortunately green and there were no snowmen waiting to be made, I busied myself in the coziness of the kitchen (and I think cooking is a great alternative to lazing on the couch watching Christmas specials on TV).

While cooking a traditional holiday feast appears to be a massive undertaking that strikes terror in the hearts of home cooks everywhere, a little planning means it usually goes quite smoothly.

Because we had a modest number of diners, the turkey was not a massive beast of a bird in the oven. Our roast consisted of a turkey breast, which can still be tough to cook despite its diminutive size. Because it is so lean, it often becomes unpleasantly tough, dry, and stringy.

Leave it to Alton Brown to explain and emphasize the power of the brine. It is THE secret for a juicy bird. It is extremely simple, and after preparing turkey this way, you will never go back. The salt in the brine both seasons the meat and does something to the proteins that allows it to retain moisture better. Goodbye turkey jerky.

A few other little things about the turkey: use the canola oil specified in the recipe to coat the skin rather than butter. Starting the turkey in a 500 F oven means that you need to use oil with a high smoke point. I also like to baste it with a mixture of melted butter and maple syrup to encourage a nicely browned and sticky skin. Yum.

Besides the regular sides of roasted vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes, I made a classic bread stuffing. In order to deal with the problems of roasting the turkey with the stuffing stuffed in it (namely, that the meat is done before the stuffing is safely heated through), I baked the stuffing in a dish alongside the turkey. This recipe makes an extremely flavorful stuffing that's perfumed with onion, rosemary, thyme and sage, and punctuated with spicy sausage and sweet apple and cranberries. I probably could have had the stuffing alone for dinner and dispensed with everything else.

Overall, it was a dinner that successfully put everybody into a food coma...in a good way. I wouldn't have spent my Christmas Day any other way.

Good Eats Roast Turkey:

  • 1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
  • 1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:

  • 1 red apple, sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 leaves sage
  • Canola oil


2 to 3 days before roasting:

Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat:

Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

Sausage, Cranberry and Apple Stuffing:


  • 1 1/2 cups cubed whole wheat bread
  • 3 3/4 cups cubed white bread
  • 1 pound ground turkey sausage
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 Golden Delicious apple, cored and chopped
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 cooked turkey liver, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup turkey stock
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F (175 degree C). Spread the white and whole wheat bread cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes in the preheated oven, or until evenly toasted. Transfer toasted bread cubes to a large bowl.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the sausage and onions over medium heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps until evenly browned. Add the celery, sage, rosemary, and thyme; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes to blend flavors.
  3. Pour sausage mixture over bread in bowl. Mix in chopped apples, dried cranberries, parsley, and liver. Drizzle with turkey stock and melted butter, and mix lightly. Spoon into turkey to loosely fill.
Image property of beetsandbites
Turkey recipe credit to Alton Brown and foodtv.com
Stuffing recipe credit to Stacy Polcyn

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